The House of Commons today saw humiliating scenes in the latest Select Committee session as members, including respected Walsall North MP David Winnick, took turns to tear strips off G4S chief executive Nick Buckles.
Mr Buckles is the highly paid boss (£825,000) of the highly profitable private security firm with 660,000 employees, making it the world’s third largest employer. It has over £600 million worth of Home Office contracts, including prisons and some privatised police back office staff, as well as NHS contracts.
He was appearing before the committee cap in hand to account for the company’s disastrous handling of their preparations for London 2012 Olympics security, including a predicted shortfall of more than 3,000 trained staff.
Buckles candidly admitted that he should never have signed the contract to provide security for the now-imminent Olympics, as MPs lined up to brand him as “incompetent” and “amateurish”.
Labour MP David Winnick, who has served our constituency since 1979 and is often seen about Bloxwich and district when not in the House, said to Buckles: “It’s a humiliating shambles for the company isn’t it?”
Shamefaced, Buckles replied: “I cannot disagree with you.”
Buckles later stated that he learned of the problems filling vacancies in the huge security team on 3 July, but only told the Olympic Security Board on 11 July.
The G4S boss further admitted that he could not even guarantee that ‘security’ personnel would turn up on the first day of the games and that his skin had in effect been saved by last-minute police and military support, despite many of these dedicated public servants facing potential redundancy and reductions in pay due to swingeing government cuts and pension changes.
Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the committee, put it to the CEO that Buckles could not give the committee the assurances it sought. Buckles admitted “I can’t, no.”
Vaz went on to ask the G4S boss if he would waive the firm’s £57 million management fee as well as the £50 million loss it would now be making on the contract, but despite later telling MPs he was “deeply disappointed and embarrassed” by the failure to satisfy the contract, he was clearly insufficiently embarrassed to acknowledge the fact financially, insisting that he would not.
Mr Vaz was aghast at this, saying “Why? You haven’t managed. I find that astonishing.”
Buckles was subsequently reminded by the cross-party Select Committee of his appearance in an interview at the weekend, during which didn’t seem to even be sure whether Olympic games security staff needed to be able to speak fluent English to work there.
The G4S boss had to admit he didn’t know what ‘fluent English’ meant, and this resulted in mocking laughter from committee members.
During the session, emails from G4S employees were read out, complaining of harsh treatment by the firm, being made to pay for uniforms and training and being kept uninformed about when they would be required to work at the games.
Mr Winnick struck home again at this point, saying to Buckles sardonically “It doesn’t sound like a caring and well-managed operation does it?”
Coalition Home Secretary Theresa May, who also has questions to answer about when she knew of the G4S failings, is to be interviewed by the committee in September, after the Olympic games have concluded.